Sixty years ago the biggest civil engineering project the port has ever known, the enlargement of the number two dry dock along with the construction of the Duchy and County wharves, was well advanced as the dawn of the super tanker hit the British shipping industry.

The advent of the super tanker saw dockyards across the globe embarking on new dry dock schemes. In 1953 Mr H.A.J. Silley and his fellow directors decided that in order for Falmouth to survive and have a bright future in the UK ship-repairing industry this dock had to be built.

Jack Silley had a vision for the port of a super dry dock capable of docking the largest oil tankers berthing at any existing oil terminals in the United Kingdom. He wanted a dock to handle tankers of 85,000 tons deadweight. Mr Eric Underwood, civil engineer and general manager of the Falmouth Docks and Engineering Company, master-minded the entire building programme from start to finish.

To enlarge the old number two dock it was necessary to remove 250,000 cubic metres of what is now the Castle Drive cliff face. Construction workers had to move the 40 metre high face back 50 metres.

The dry-dock itself was hewn out of solid rock, the amount removed being 300,000 cubic metres that was used to reclaim two acres of land behind the Duchy and County wharves. New road and rail links were laid down, all designed to feed supplies and services to the new dock. The main navigable channel into the docks and the basin were extensively dredged.

The magnificent barque Pamir, a veteran of the Grain Race era, berthed in Falmouth on December 22, 1956, when stevedores had to secure her cargo of methylated spirits. On passage from Antwerp to Montevideo, Pamir was one of the first vessels to use the partly constructed wharf.

Pamir stayed alongside until January 10, 1957 while a considerable number of barrels were discharged and transferred to Coast Lines Wharves. The barrels were subsequently later loaded on to Pamir's sister ship the Passat.

The County and Duchy deep water berths were designed and work began in tandem with the dry dock project to allow the super tankers to berth alongside for repairs. The Duke of Edinburgh formally opened the Queen Elizabeth dock in May, 1958.

He said: “This dry dock is ample proof that the owners are neither old-fashioned, un-enterprising nor stick in the mud. It is quite an achievement purely as a feat of engineering, but as a gesture of confidence in the future is of untold value. This is a great day for Falmouth and for the ship-repairing industry in this area.” On September 4th, 1958 the 28,598 ton BP tanker British Realm became the first ship to enter the dry dock.

Thanks to the immense foresight of the directors the dry dock was completed before the first of the new generation of 50,000 ton super tankers entered service. Just a year later the BP Tanker British Queen, the biggest tanker built in Britain at the time, docked in the Queen Elizabeth dry dock after her builder’s trials on the Clyde.

*The Queen Elizabeth dry dock measures 850 feet in length by 136 feet breadth between side walls. The width at the entrance is 130feet and the depth over the sill is 36 feet at high water ordinary Spring tides. The dock holds 28 million gallons of water which can be pumped out in less than three hours by powerful pumps. The box piece dock gate hinged below sill level was designed by Sir William Arrol Company Limited and weighs 500 tons.